Planning international assignments on the fly? Try this instead
As the international marketplace grows more complex, global mobility professionals must continuously evaluate and update their international assignment programs, assessing costs, compliance, and overall effectiveness.
But this doesn’t always happen. As many international assignments occur on the fly, in response to some urgent or unanticipated factor in a foreign location, these longer-term considerations can be easily sidelined. The goal instead is to quickly address whatever has come up, with most competent person available.
Most companies want to avoid this, of course, and they can by planning ahead. It’s not as onerous as it might seem, and once processes are in place, even last-minute assignments can be handled more efficiently and cost effectively.
Where to begin
Although all assignment components benefit from careful planning, some areas require it more than others. These include immigration, compensation and benefits, physical move logistics, employee safety and security, and the overall repatriation process.
Global mobility managers can use the following checklists to ensure that the right steps are taken in these and other areas of the assignment. While these aren’t exhaustive, they do include the most essential elements, from pre-assignment to repatriation
A pre-assignment checklist should cover any issues that have the potential to delay or interfere with the assignment’s success. These can include employee drop out pre-departure, assignment delays, host country issues, and excessive expenses.
To prevent or mitigate these types of challenges, the pre-assignment checklist should cover the following:
- Immigration compliance (visas, work permits, processing times)
- Relocation logistics (the physical move, host country housing, schools, and local resources)
- Employee preparation (training and orientation, consideration of any family issues)
- Compensation package (salary, benefits, tax equalization)
- Policies on repatriation (notice, termination, severance, payback agreements, logistics)
- Payroll and employment compliance (payroll methods and providers, local contracts, statutory withholding)
Once an employee is on assignment, it’s important to minimize any issues that may arise around morale, adaptation, and job performance. While some things are beyond the control of both the employee and employer, many can still be anticipated by monitoring conditions within the host country.
To accomplish this, consider the following best practices:
- Monitor assignment progress (e.g., projects and assignee meeting established goals)
- Conduct regular employee satisfaction surveys
- Provide assistance with personal and family challenges
- Assess business value by assembling and reporting on relevant ROI data
- Ensure that there are security, disaster management, evacuation contingencies in place
Some companies may consider the repatriation process irrelevant, but this can be the most important step if talent retention is a priority. To ensure employee satisfaction and motivation post assignment, the following measures should be taken:
- Provide an off-boarding process upon the assignment’s completion (personal and professional reorientation, providing a new position, preserving status and benefits)
- Adhere to local/host country requirements for notice and termination
- Ensure that home country position changes with regard to promotions, compensation, etc. are not overlooked, but prioritized
In house or outsourced?
Although some companies may not have the bandwidth or expertise to address each of the steps described above, these can easily be outsourced to those that do. While this might be perceived as more expensive and time consuming, it’s actually often less so. In most instances, outsourcing enables greater cost savings due to knowledgeable partners in each host country (who can prevent or mitigate many challenges) and a more efficient allocation of resources.
Areas most frequently delegated to third parties include the following:
International assignment and moving services: These firms can handle the administrative, physical and logistical aspects of an assignment, such as transportation, movement of personal goods, and temporary and permanent housing. They can also recommend educational resources for school-age children and medical facilities, practitioners, etc.
Language and cultural training experts: Some assignments have more cultural and language challenges than others, and outsourcing language and cultural training to experts who are familiar with these can greatly minimize assignee culture shock or language barriers. Online tools are readily available at a low cost and allow for the convenience of training at will.
Tax and legal specialists: Taxation is an issue for every assignment and can affect the overall compensation to the assignee. To avoid unwelcome surprises, tax and legal specialists with knowledge of the host country should be enlisted during the pre-assignment stage.
Payroll and employment services: Companies that are not prepared to run a local payroll through their own subsidiary can outsource to a third party employer of record for full compliance.
Global Employer Organization (GEO) services: A GEO becomes the employer of the client’s employees in a country where the company (client) does have not have their own entity. A GEO will employ, sponsor work permits and pay-roll the client’s staff on their behalf. The GEO will provide local payroll with relevant deductions and tax contributions. They will sponsor the work permit and employment will include a local payroll contract. The GEO is the employer-of-record while the client still directs the employee’s daily activities.
The GEO enables companies to deploy and support staff on assignment quickly and compliantly, without the need for local incorporation and registration.
Good planning not only ensures more successful assignments, but a less costly and more efficient process overall. This, when combined with third-party assistance for complex functions, positions your program for steady evolution and greater effectiveness, alleviating some of the HR workload and ensuring full compliance abroad.